By Genevieve A. Longley
Recently I was out with two married friends. One began to tell a cute story about a comment her son had made. The family had been playing a game called “The Game of Life®.” As she reached a certain square in the game, Cindy’s son informed her that she could no longer have children. I chimed in, “So, what happens if you aren’t married by that point in the game; you never get to have children?” “Oh,” says Cindy, “everyone starts the game married.” Before I could even remark on that my other friend quipped, “What! You have to be married to have a life?”
We all laughed but as I thought about it I realized that, unfortunately, that very attitude can all too often be directed towards, or even sometimes from, singles about singleness.
I remember a conversation with my mother when I was in my mid-twenties. I had just purchased an incredibly expensive living room suite. Prior to this I had purchased crystal stemware, sterling silverware and bone china. My mother remarked, “Honey, you’re not leaving anything for people to buy you when you get married.”
The attitude communicated by my mother- albeit unintentionally – was that life didn’t begin until marriage. The unspoken message was that before marriage one merely existed, living in a holding pattern until real life started. The reality for many is that they don’t marry, or at least not early. So, as Christian singles are we to put our lives on hold? Are we to be in a perpetual holding pattern? Will we drink from crystal or from toss-away Dixie Cups®? It’s our choice.
When I was eight years old I was called to the mission field. Towards that end I earned a bachelor’s degree in theology. After graduation I sat down to wait. Wait for what, you might ask? Why, marriage, of course! As the years rolled by, I established myself in my secular career, set up a home, and became active in my local church. I continued to pray and wait for my missionary husband to arrive on the scene.
In the meantime, the years were rolling by and the call on my life was languishing. Finally, one day, God was able to show me that He hadn’t called me at that point to marry a missionary but to be one.
As I began to prepare for the field there were many who encouraged me but there were also those who tried to discourage me. I recall one minister I had just met telling me “not to run ahead of God” but to pray for Him to send me a husband with whom I might go to the mission field. Little did he realize I had been living his well intended but shortsighted advice for the past decade!
Having decided to drink from the crystal cup of life, I have now been a full-time missionary for the past twelve years. Never have I found life so abundant and fulfilling.
Far from being a drawback, my single state has actually facilitated my missionary endeavors. One immediate and visible benefit to being single on the mission field was the rapidity with which I acquired Spanish. Rather than spending a few hours a day in a language school and the rest of the time speaking English at home with my family, I went directly to Argentina. Once there I rented a room with a non-English speaking widow and was immediately immersed in both the language and culture. With no prior knowledge of Spanish, within three months I was teaching and ministering in my new second language.
After my initial linguistic and cultural adaptation I moved further up into the Andes Mountains to a centrally located village. From there I traveled to remote mountain communities in a modern-day version of the circuit-riding preacher. I would “preach, teach, marry and bury,” as the saying goes. Most of the time I was on the road at least 25 days a month. The few days I was home would be spent studying and preparing new material as well as washing clothes on a scrub board in preparation for the next circuit. The only other person working in this manner in my area was a single Argentine minister- all the traveling just was not compatible with a married lifestyle.
In the ensuing years there have been many changes in my ministry but they have all had one thing in common – they would not be practicable were I married. I no longer live in the village. However, I continue to travel many weeks out of the month, I am on-call virtually 24/7, I am able to drop whatever I am doing at a moment’s notice to minister to someone, and have a freedom and flexibility with regards to ministry that would not be possible were I to have familial responsibilities. God knew what He was doing when He called me to the field as a single.
As I look at my life as a missionary I am put in mind of the scripture in 1 Corinthians 7:34, which speaks of the responsibilities of single versus married women. I enjoy friendships with many married missionary women and recognize the great and invaluable work they are doing. However, in many ways they are limited – ways in which I, as a single, am not. God truly has a tailor-made plan for each one of us, be we married or single.
Eighteen months ago I entered the biggest trial of my life – I was diagnosed with a virulent and life-threatening form of cancer. In Argentina I was told it was terminal and inoperable and sent home to the U.S. to die. God in His mercy and grace has seen fit to heal me and keep me here on this earth a while longer, for which I praise Him.
While lying bedridden for many months, I was brought back to the basics of life – Jesus Christ and Him crucified. All the peripheral things that had seemed so important just a few months before became as naught.
No one is guaranteed a tomorrow; we each live by the grace of God. Is ours a temporary Dixie Cup® of life or an elegant crystal goblet from which we can drink deeply? Will we as Christian singles buy into the thinking that says we must first be married before starting The Game of Life® or will we choose to say, “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)